Let us take a trip back in time to the not-so-distant past. In fact, we head back to just over two weeks ago, and to the ninth inning of the May 25th game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees. The Rays held a 3-1 lead heading into the top of the ninth, and summoned Fernando Rodney from the bullpen. He had struggled virtually all season, and struggled once again that night, giving up two runs on two hits and a walk as the Yankees would go on to win the game 4-3 in extra innings.
At that point, the calls to remove Rodney from the closer’s role reached their crescendo. Pitchers from Joel Peralta to Jake McGee to even Chris Archer were bandied about as potential replacements for Rodney given his continued struggles. Yet, much to the dismay of most people, Joe Maddon stuck by Rodney, stating that he would remain at closer.
Then, a funny thing happened over the last couple of weeks – Rodney has rewarded Maddon’s faith and has begun to pitch like he had last season. Since that last implosion on May 25th, Rodney has given up only one hit and two walks in the past 6.1 innings, striking out seven while recording four saves and getting a win.
Has it been as simple as reducing his velocity, as he began to do against the Marlins? While his fastball over his last four May outings averaged only 96.39 MPH according to Brooks Baseball, in June it is back up to 98.84 MPH. Maybe all he needed was to know that the management had confidence in him while he overcame his struggles on the mound, and let him work his way back into the form he had last season.
At this point, Rodney looks like a different pitcher when he takes the mound. It no longer appears as though he is hoping to get through the inning and record the save – he appears as though he knows he is going to shut down the opposition. That confidence may be all the difference for Rodney.
In order for the Rays to make the postseason, they likely need Fernando Rodney to be elite once again at the end of games. With the way he has performed over the past two weeks, he may be on the verge of getting back to that point.